Little Axe may not be a household name, but the musician / performer / producer has been a well- respected and significant artist for the past 30 years. His alias was Skip McDonald, a blues performer whose list of credits includes work on some of rap music's most influential records.
McDonald, besides being a member of the Disco inspired Wood, Brass & Steal in the ' 70s and the heavy Industrial group Tackhead in the late ' 80s and early ' 90s, has been called upon by many artist such as Sinéad O'Connor to The Sugar Hill Gang for his atypical approach to production. Other assignments include remixing material for the industrial band Nine Inch Nails and heavy metal group Megadeath.
Skip “Little Axe” McDonalds’s 1994 debut, The Wolf That House Built, would not only garner great reviews but would also lay the groundwork for Moby’s Play release. Little Axe’s follow-up, Slow Fuse, was equally as impressive, as the visionary producer would again break ground.
While his newest will no doubt draw comparisons to Play, it was Skip McDonald who pioneered the fusion of blues and electronic music. Moreover, McDonald understands the blues as he has actually played it. Even though Hard Grind, Little Axe’s debut from blues label Fat Possum, barely deviates from the two previous records, the sophomore effort issued by legendary reggae producer and Mixmaster Adrian Sherwood, guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish, and drummer Keith LeBlanc, draws the listener in deeper as the voices of blues men telling stories and snippets of singers drifting in and out as if they were somehow channeled.
The moody and slow moving cadence of the music on this CD is almost hypnotic. The seductive loops and ambient rhythms are enhanced by McDonald’s understated and atmospheric guitar playing.
The recording commences with a read of Blind Willie Johnson’s "Dark Was the Night Cold Was the Ground," where the legendary blues pioneer speaks of the blues.
On "All Night Party," the late Junior Kimbrough’s voice is mixed with absent friends, preachers and black historians, with harmonica fills provided by Alan Glen (who plays on five of the 11 tracks).
The album takes pleasurable unexpected twists and turns, as it takes the listener on a haunting and spiritual journey of blues history.
Overall, this disc is mystical and lingering. The blend of synthetic and organic instrumentation is near perfection. If you “like” the blues influenced Play or “18” by Moby, you’re going to “love” Little Axe's Hard Grind.
-- Tony Engelhart
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